Craig Gibson watched the final out recorded and exhaled. The seventh-year head coach just saw Mercer baseball come full circle under his watch.
The program’s last championship came in 1983 when the Bears won their final six games of the season to claim the conference tournament title. Gibson helped anchor that team, playing first base for a team that swept its way through the tournament.
This year’s squad did the same thing on their way to clinching a spot in the NCAA Regionals.
“Offensively, we are very similar [to the 1983 team], we had three guys in the ’83 lineup with 20 home runs or more,” Gibson said. “This club with Moreland, Tanis, Langley and Carroll give us the same type of presence in the middle of the order. This year’s group is a lot more mentally tough. The group I played with played hard on and off the field. We have a little different group this year.”
While the last month has been a remarkable ride for Mercer, the journey to get there has not been easy.
In Gibson’s first year after taking over for Hall of Fame coach Barry Myers, the Bears finished last in the conference, managing just eight league wins. Within two years, Mercer was the two-seed in the 2006 conference tournament.
“As a coach, this validates all the work and the fight we have put into this thing for seven years,” reflected Gibson. “I am really happy for a lot of people: President Bill Underwood, our incoming Athletics Director Jim Cole and our long-time AD Bobby Pope. Hopefully, we validated what they have given us and we turned it into a championship tonight.”
While Gibson deflects most of the credit for the turnaround towards his players and assistant coaches, his players know the value of their head coach.
“I have been here six years and he has meant everything,” stated sixth-year senior Lath Guyer, who picked up the save in the title game. “He is always positive with the guys and rallies us up. Coach is on an even-keel and means a lot to us. I’m really happy we could help bring this to him and Mercer. Tonight is perfect!”
Don’t expect the Bears to fall off much anytime soon. The team’s 27-man tournament roster featured just six seniors. Tournament Most Valuable Player Jacob Tanis and All-Tournament selections Billy Burns, Brandon Love and David Teasley lead a group of talented returners who will join one of the most highly-touted recruiting classes in Mercer history.
Throw in a new stadium on the drawing board and the future looks as bright as the orange jerseys the Bears celebrated in on Saturday.